Chapter 13: “Raccoon Eyes”

“Your eyes are so beautiful,” Mike whispered to Jubilee from an inch away.

“Oh yeah? What else?” she asked as if she were merely gathering information for a telephone survey.

“Your shoulders,” he continued seriously, almost piously and she laughed, though more quietly than her usual gunshot guffaw.

“What about them?” she probed, a note of delighted challenge in her voice.

“They’re round and golden, strong and beautiful and when you’re in a tank top I just want to...” he kissed the right shoulder with reverence, like he was praying in church. It was the first time he had spent the whole night with a girl. Neither of them had been a virgin, but he felt like this had been the real first time.

In his earlier sexual experiences (three in total), the girl and he had both been trying to prove something, throwing themselves against each other like they were tagging a wall. With Jubilee, it was completely different. The clichés were all true: two souls becoming one, leaving your body, flying into orbit. And while the sex was amazing, the real life-changing discovery was sleeping together in the same bed. He hadn’t know it was so good! So safe and warm. Jubilee had grown uncharacteristically shy after the sex and asked that they wear their underwear while they slept. So they had; but still, the warmth, the weight... it was awesome.

He kissed her left shoulder.

“My shoulders. God, you’re a freak, Haddad,” she told him coolly, though she couldn’t stop the smile from dancing around the corners of her mouth. “Okay, tell me more.”

“Your hands,” he picked one up and kissed it, his tongue peeking between his lips ever so slightly, enjoying the salty tang of her palm. “Your elbows,” making his way up, “your lips,” he touched them with the gentlest, most teasing of kisses that lingered and lingered until she moaned. He climbed on top of her, holding himself up on one elbow while his free hand stroked her hair.

“And your eyes,” he breathed. “Did I already say your eyes?”

“You just have an Asian fetish,” she chided, pretending her breathing wasn’t quickening nor her face flushing. “I know your type.”

“Lebanese are Asians, dork.” he said, smiling for the first time.

“Barely! And don’t mess with me; I got an 87 on the geography quiz last week!”

He grabbed her tightly and rolled onto his back, spinning her free of her sheets and up on top of him. Such spontaneity was something new for him with a girl. She reached down and ran her fingers through his long hair. His messy mop was her fault; she encouraged his truant ‘do. He knew that if she asked him to, he would grow it down to his ass.

He wanted to say, ‘I’m going to fuck you.’ He wanted to be that kind of tough, cool guy, but maybe he hadn’t changed so much after all. “I love touching you,” he murmured instead. Her eyes were endless pools that called to him to dive in. He knew she wanted it, too and his breathing grew faster. But she looked over at her clock and then towards the door with a panicky twist of her head.

“Shit, no!” She was climbing off him, straightening her t-shirt. “Auntie Bao could come in any minute. You gotta get out of here.” He made a loud exclamation of outrage and she clamped a hand over his mouth. “Quiet! We cannot get busted, do you hear me?”

“It’s only 6:15, Jubes! We have, like 15 minutes for sure.”

She lay back down stiffly, keeping an eye on the door, and every time he tried to climb on top of her, she pushed him away. She finally allowed their hands to intertwine as they lay side by side and so he made do with that, enjoying the somewhat frustrated closeness in the pale glow of the early morning light.

“So, I’ve been thinking,” Mike ventured, trying not to sound nervous. “I was chatting with this guy from a school downtown...”

“Should I be jealous?”

“Shut up, no! He’s interested in making a bill of rights for mutant students...”

He felt her tense at his side. “Michael... we talked about this.”

Mike pressed on, “I think I should help him out.”

“Don’t get involved. It’s trouble!”

Mike couldn’t help raising his voice, his frustration breaking through. “It’s trouble anyway, Jubilee! Do you ever go on the GenePool?”

“Hello no. That board is for losers.”

“It’s for mutant kids who want to communicate with each other!” he replied, exasperated.

“And that’s not you. So do me a favor and stay away from things that aren’t your business.”

“You’re my business. And... other mutants are, too.” For the hundredth time, he wanted to tell her about Bobby, but he knew he would need his friend’s permission for that and, stupidly, he had been too shy to ask for it. “Furthermore, it’s a question of right and wrong. We have to make the world better.”

He could feel her tension, feel that she wasn’t with him even as their bodies touched.

“Mike, just let us handle—” Suddenly her cell phone rang loudly—Get this Party Started by Pink—and they both jumped and glanced worriedly at the door. She scrambled over his body to reach the phone on the nightstand.

Looking at the call display first, she answered and whispered, “Hi, Rayen! What’s up?”

Pinned under her soft weight, Mike began stroking her side as she talked. He asked, “Why is she calling so early? That girl is stalking you.”

She put her hand over the receiver. “Get out of here. The phone probably woke up Auntie Bao!” She rolled off him and began pushing him out of bed.

“No, come on! We have time!” he pleaded, making himself as immovable as possible

“Move it! Go!” She underlined her point with a spark to his side that made him leap from the bed with a cry. Looking around for his clothes, he stood half-naked in the pale dawn light.

“Wait, hold it,” she called out, staring at him. “God, you’re yummy.” He blushed and began pulling on his pants and shirt while she returned to her conversation.

“Really? Do you think he’ll ask you out? Well then he’s a jerk, forget it. No! You’re awesome! I’m only friends with awesome!”

A minute later Mike was dressed and opening the bedroom door gingerly, peering down the corridor to see if the coast was clear.

“Mike, wait, Go out the window.” she hissed from behind him and then, into the phone. “Yes, it’s Mike. Yes, he’s here. Shut up!”

Mike closed the door gently and looked back at her. “I can totally get out this way.”

“I know,” she smiled wickedly. “But it’s more romantic if you climb down the trellis.”

He stood by the door, not knowing whether to take her seriously. Circling the bed, he opened the window and looked down at the trellis dubiously. Truth be told, he kind of liked the idea of being her Romeo but it was all too easy to imagine himself falling on his ass like in a cheesy teen comedy.

Jubilee was kicking her feet and smirking, clearly enjoying his predicament as she casually returned to her phone call: “What? Yeah, I have the history notes. What about Mike?” Looking at him pointedly. “He’s just going! Now!”

Down the hall, a door squeaked open and they froze. “Jubilation! Who is calling so early?” came Auntie Bao’s voice as she approached the room. Jubilee jumped out of bed still holding her phone, kissed Mike and all but pushed him out the window. He scrambled out awkwardly, climbing down the trellis to hang just below the window, a rose thorn digging into his hand. He tried not to breathe as he heard the bedroom door open. Above him, Jubilee quickly sat down on the window seat with a nonchalant air, as if engrossed in her conversation.

He heard the older women’s heavily accented voice ringing out stridently, “Jubilation! Close the window! Are you crazy? Too cold! You get sick!”

“One sec, Rayen,” she said casually into the phone. “Good morning, Auntie. Cold? Really? I feel just fine!”

Fuck, Mike thought. I am in a teen comedy.

***

Bobby felt nothing. He stood in the shadows of a darkened window in an unused dorm room on the third floor, looking down on the driveway where a scene at once mundane and tragic was unfolding. And he felt nothing. No sorrow, no guilt, no pain. Nope. It was only 8 a.m. and a damp, autumnal dew clung to the fallen leaves and browning grass.

Already the Alvers’ silver BMW was standing like a shining specter of doom, doors and trunk open hungrily, ready to swallow Lance, his belongings, his memory and take them away forever. That was fine with Bobby who wanted nothing more than to just forget Lance had ever been at the school. When he was gone, they would resume their lives, rekindle their dreams and lean on each other for support in a way the combative boy had never allowed. Fuck him, Bobby thought. Fuck him for screwing everything up last night. Fuck him for calling his mother when I was right there.

Even from this far away, Bobby could read Mrs. Alvers’ fury in the tight set of her shoulders and the haughty jut of her jaw. Despite the early hour and the miserable circumstances, she was dressed impeccably, not a hair out of place. What a fake bitch. And though she probably had a few choice words to fill the air with, she was leaving the talking up to her husband. Dominic Alvers was as calm and confident as ever, nodding slowly and emphatically as he and Xavier spoke. It was clear that Xavier wasn’t fighting anymore; he had lost this battle. They all had.

Bobby watched Lance and Kitty sitting to the side of the driveway on a stone bench. She looked shell-shocked, eyes to the gravel. Lance was holding her hand, talking low, and Bobby knew just what he was saying: ‘It’ll be okay. We’ll see each other soon. It’s not my fault.’ Fuck him.

Soon the BMW was pulling away down the driveway as Kitty, Xavier and Bobby watched, each from his or her isolated vantage. Bobby saw Scott emerging from the front door and walking to the Professor. He spoke something in Xavier’s ear and they turned together to go inside. The Professor stopped to address Kitty who nodded and said something in response. They left her there alone. With everyone gone, she looked very small and Bobby wished he could help her. He also felt he had no right.

Bobby watched her for a minute before turning from the window. He opened the door of the dorm room carefully to make sure he was exiting unseen and then slipped into the hall. He knew breakfast was nearly over and he headed for the stairs. Step by step, without really thinking about it, he put on a calm and casual persona, ready to greet any teacher with a confident nod, ready to reassure any student that Lance’s departure didn’t change anything for the rest of them.

He met no one. It was as if the mansion had suddenly become a haunted house and he the only living soul. As he turned down the last set of stairs into the foyer, Kitty ghosted in through the door. She stood watching him descend, her face a picture of desolation. He came to a stop on the last stair and paused, as if stepping off would mean committing himself to something.

“You didn’t have to, Bobby,” she said quietly with a tone that he might have taken as an accusation if he had had something to feel guilty about. Which he hadn’t.

“Didn’t have to what, Kitty?”

“You could have said goodbye to him, you know. Did you stay inside for my sake?”

What did she want to hear? He was desperate to say the right thing and he clung to the ornate newel post as if it was a totem that could keep him from fucking up. “Yeah, I didn’t want to be in the way. I wanted you to have… time to…” He didn’t finish.

Kitty stared at him for a long painful moment. “I think you didn’t even like him,” she snapped and turned to go, walking towards the dining hall with determined dignity.

He stood with his mouth open, half forming the words, “I did!” but not releasing them. His mind was suddenly full of confessions: I had sex with your boyfriend! Every night!

Another part of his mind rebelled: No! It wasn’t sex! Just two guys getting off, that’s all...

The first voice, the confessor: Not last night. Last night it was for real. That’s why Lance lost it. That’s why he had to leave. Because of you.

As much to get away from the voices as anything, he hopped from the last step and ran after Kitty. He entered the dining hall seconds after she did, putting his confident smile back on. All conversation stopped for a second when they appeared and Bobby felt his façade almost crack. Kitty broke away and joined Rahne, Peter and Doug at one table at the same time as Bobby was called over by Sam and Terry for a full sit-rep. As he told his already polished version of the night’s events, Neal and Roberto joined them.

“I could sort of tell something was wrong when he came to bed,” Bobby explained to the rapt audience. “He didn’t want to talk. Said his head hurt.”

“You saw him yesterday in class,” Sam put in. “He was strung tighter than a hunting bow on the first day of the season.”

Terry nodded. “Yeah, I guess he just blew. He was pretty unstable, if you ask me.”

Bobby’s voice came out more sharply than intended. “That’s not fair! Powers class isn’t easy for anyone.”

Neal put a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “Bobby, you are a loyal friend and you always tried to help but you saw how Lance was struggling. You could have done nothing more.”

Bobby felt annoyance rising. It made no sense but Neal’s exotic accent always made him feel like he was being talked down to. Bobby turned away so he could compose himself. Kitty and her tablemates were getting up to put their plates away. It was time for them all to grab their books and get to 8:30 classes. He was expecting her to wait for him, since their first class was together. Instead, she left the dining room without even looking his way; he realized that the rift between them would take time to heal.

The teachers, who had been huddled together at their own table, more closed and quiet than usual, were also preparing to go. Ororo rose and gathered her papers into her schoolbag while Jean walked over to talk to Jones. He was sitting by himself and seemed even more catatonic than usual, his breakfast only half eaten in front of him.

“Someone should always sit with him,” Bobby muttered, half to himself but he saw the others take it to heart. The mansion’s conscience had spoken. Why did they care what he said?

“I’ll do lunch,” Terry offered, “but trying to make conversation with him is like transcribing knock-knock jokes from hieroglyphics.”

“Whoo, that made my head spin, little siren,” Sam laughed. As they returned their dishes, Bobby watched Scott speaking urgently and quietly to the Professor who just nodded curtly in response. Xavier’s hands were clenched in fists. Bobby’s stomach echoed the sentiment. We lost one, he thought.

***

It was 12:45 and Mike was looking around the busy cafeteria for Jubilee. Traffic was thick as the students with first lunch headed off for class and the second lunch shift poured in to take their rather sticky places. Mike was glad to have second lunch this year because it made the afternoons shorter. This day, which had begun so early, already seemed long.

After his brilliant descent from the rose trellis, Mike had biked home like there was a stiff trade wind filling his sails. When he came downstairs from his shower, his mother had asked casually if he had slept well at Paul’s house and he had nodded enthusiastically. Was it his imagination or had she looked suspicious? He had grabbed an apple and headed out before more questions could be asked. All morning in his classes, he had grinned like a man with a secret key to the universe, like the first man who had ever fallen in love.

He saw Jubilee enter the cafeteria from the north corridor, wearing a tight sweater in pale yellow that made no secret of her perfect curves. She didn’t have a lot of close friends but she knew a lot of people and he watched as she engaged in five mini-conversations without ever slowing down. Love her or hate her, everybody paid attention to Jubilee. It was that crazy intensity. He felt like he’d been sleeping for 16 years and she was finally waking him up.

She caught sight of him and smiled. It had only been a few hours since he had last seen her and yet his heart quickened. Any time together seemed precious and the more he saw of her, the sharper that feeling became. Everything was just perfect—as long as he didn’t say the word ‘mutant’.

They kissed and were about to sit down when he saw something storming their way that made him despair.

“Jubilee! Jubilee!” came the scratchy baby voice of Rayen Cooper. “Oh, God, I’m in so much trouble!” As usual, she seemed on the verge of tears.

“Hey,” Jubilee said, taking the taller girl in her arms, “chill out, honey. What’s wrong?”

Mike sank down in frustration on the cafeteria bench. He looked around at the smirks and stares and cursed the fact that he was connected to this show. Rayen was… unique. A tall, round, slouching black girl dressed in high-goth regalia which today meant a black dress with dainty skull buttons, chunky black boots that added another three inches to her considerable height, at least 12 dangly silver bracelets, a floppy raggedy-ann bow of white and black lace in her ironed and crimped hair, white lip-gloss and enough eyeliner and mascara to make her look like a surprised raccoon, cornered by snapping dogs.

“It’s that bitch Erin and her friends!”

“In your chemistry lab? What about them?”

“I just saw them at lunch and they’re already starting! I gotta go to class with them now and if they say more shit to me, I’m gonna lose it! I’m totally gonna lose it!

Histrionics. He resented the drama that the girl filled their lives with. Why did Jubilee even put up with it? But now Rayen was leading her away, talking in hushed tones with urgent body language.

He picked up a copy of the student paper and started reading. He looked up as two former basketball teammates passed his table. He raised a hand in greeting but they didn’t stop. One glanced away and Mike knew he wasn’t just not being noticed; he was being actively ignored. What did he expect? He dropped the team this year, changed how he looked, started hanging out with Jubilee’s friends. But it still hurt. The only one who remained loyal was Paul Greenstein who could drive him crazy as easily as amuse him. He told himself that it didn’t matter and resumed his reading until Jubilee and her sidekick returned. Rayen still looked shaky, but she was less hysterical.

“Thanks, Jubes. You’re so, so, SO awesome.” Rayen hugged her enthusiastically.

“And you text me if you need me, okay?”

“Ogodogod, I’m late,” Rayen squealed, her voice cracking, and she ran off.

Jubilee sat and let out a breath. Mike was about to use the moment to make a comment but Jubilee pre-empted him. “Don’t you start! You don’t know what she goes through. She’s this awesome, spectacular…thing and those assholes treat her like a—”

“Freak?”

“Shut up, Michael. You’re not exactly Mr. Popular anymore either.”

“Jubilee, I know she’s hurting, but still—”

“Michael! She’s my friend, case closed.” She opened her lunchbox and poked through it. The lunches her aunt made were full of Chinese delicacies that Jubilee was usually happy to trade for his cold cuts and carrots.

“You like those turnip cakes, right?” she pondered and he reached in happily and grabbed them. Jubilee sighed and looked off into space. “Why are high schools so fucking intolerant? Look around at everyone in their little clique; jocks with jocks, blacks with blacks. It’s disgusting. Only the geeks seem open to anyone. I would join them but I dress just too damn well. So what’s Rayen supposed to do in a place like this?”

Finishing the second turnip cake and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, Mike commented, “Well, she doesn’t try very hard to fit in with anyone, Jubes.”

Jubilee turned on him, her eyes wide with shock. “Ohmygod, did I just hear you say that?!” She lowered her voice and hissed, “Mike Haddad? Defender of the mutants? If you had your way, three-headed, fire-breathing students would be going through here everyday.”

“That’s not the same thing.”

“It’s exactly the same thing. Either you want a world where everyone is free to be themselves or you don’t.”

He crossed his arms over his chest angrily until he realized that she had done it first and he was just imitating her. He dropped his folded arms to the table and dropped his head onto them, turning away from her. They were silent for a minute until he felt her hand running through his hair, stroking him in solace. He reached up and put his hand on hers, giving it a small, tender squeeze. He sat up and they looked at each other with matching puppy pouts.

Mike said, “I just wish she had some friends other than you.”

“She does,” Jubilee countered. “At the Spiderhole. You have to come with us one Friday night. I think you’d find it…” She gave him a look he couldn’t parse, “Eye-opening.”

“A goth club? No thank you. There’s only so much angst the human body is supposed to be exposed to.”

“You’re a snob; admit it. Well, you’re coming there for Halloween whether you like it or not. I already have your costume planned and it’s totally—” She suddenly sat up straight and Mike realized her phone was vibrating in her pocket.

“Uh-oh,” she breathed as she checked the text message. “Mike, c’mon! We’ve got to go!” She shouted, grabbing him by the arm so that he almost fell on his ass extricating himself from the bench.

He tried to get more information out of her as they barreled through the halls (“Wait! Where are we…? Is this about..?”) and apologized to people they crashed into. Two minutes later, up a flight and at the other end of the school, they arrived at the door of the chemistry lab and he joined Jubilee who was up on tip-toes peering through the window in the door.

Inside he saw Rayen, shielding her ribboned head under her fleshy arms as Erin and her friends pelted her with wads of paper and, if his shocked eyes were correct, a tampon. The oblivious teacher, writing on the blackboard, had his back to all of this.

“Fuck, come on!” Jubilee spat and swung open the door of the lab before Mike could protest. He watched in amazement as Jubilee marched straight to the back where the scene was happening, her middle finger raised defiantly at the attackers.

The teacher finally awoke to the intrusion, turning and sputtering, “What’s going on here? Ms. Lee, is that you? I will not tolerate you interrupting my class.” He didn’t seem to notice Mike who was standing dumbly, holding the door, watching as Jubilee firmly took Rayen’s arm and pulled her to her feet. She grabbed her friend’s purse and ushered them towards the door without pausing.

“Sorry, Mr. Galecki,” she said as sweetly as she could as she all but carried the large girl from the room. “Rayen has an appointment.”

The girls who had caused the trouble were hysterical with laughter and Mike heard one say, “I hope it’s an appointment with a stylist.”

Jubilee and Rayen were already out the door as Galecki shouted after them, “Don’t think I’ll let you get away with this rudeness, young lady!” His eyes fell on Mike for the first time and he glowered with resentment and confusion.

Mike was suddenly fed up with clueless adults and shot back, “Why don’t you pay attention to the rudeness going on behind your back instead?!” He turned and ran after the girls before he got a response.

The hall was all but deserted and he saw Jubilee and Rayen running into the stairwell. He was there a minute later, finding Rayen on her ass against the wall, her face in her hands, her body shaking.

“It’s okay, now, honey,” Jubilee was saying in a comforting tone, sitting on the stairs. “We’re alone; you can let it out.”

Rayen raised her head and looked at Jubilee in misery, moaning as if in pain. Before Mike’s amazed eyes, her eyes paled over like she was crying milk and then bruises began to appear on her face. No, they weren’t bruises, they were more orderly. And as he watched with astonishment, they began to form words across her forehead and over her cheeks; vivid, red-purple letters painted as if by a bold but childish hand: ‘Nigger,’ ‘Freak,’ ‘Fat’.

Mike looked to Jubilee in shock, and saw a tear roll down his girlfriend’s cheek. She moved forward and cradled Rayen’s head, cooing, “Aww, baby, don’t listen to those idiots. You’re beautiful.”

Mike slowly dropped to the floor, his mouth hanging open as he watched the mutant girls weep together in solidarity.

***

Bobby thought the school day would never end. Despite the fact that they shared all but one class, he and Kitty had managed to avoid each other’s eyes for the whole day. The closest call had come when he arrived early to the arboretum for their history class. He had found Kitty already there, staring out the window at nothing, solitary tears moving down her cheek.

He had almost spoken up but he had been afraid of his mouth and what it might say. There had been something surprisingly angry waiting behind his tongue and he was not going to allow it into the light. Instead he had backed slowly out of the room, loitering in the hall until he could enter with a group of students.

All this avoiding and second guessing was exhausting, and it was with a great relief that he staggered toward his room after last class. He was glad there was no training today; he really didn’t have the concentration. As soon as he had thought that, however, the memory of yesterday’s fateful powers class returned and he once again heard Lance’s angry tirade in his ears: You think I’m a loser if I can’t do this! Well, fuck you!

He stepped into their dorm and the stark vacancy of Lance’s side of the room sucker punched him in the gut. It was like a trick photo; maybe a before and after. Bobby’s part of the room bore the fuzzy stamp of a living, breathing human—posters, notes, headphones lazily coiled like a snake on a sun-baked rock. In contrast, Lance’s stripped bed, naked walls, closet empty but for two wire hangers, was something unformed—an early stage fetus, still more lizard than human.

No, it was worse. Oh, God, Bobby knew exactly what it was. It was like his grandmother’s room in the old age home after they finished cleaning it out. As he had helped his mother bag the old dresses, sort the trash from the donatables, he had felt a palpable sense of violating the dead woman’s space—of consigning her to a place beyond memorial. Lance, too, seemed to have been utterly banished, as if any trace of him would upset the balance of the school. Bobby fell on his bed, the guilt crushing him. He really wanted to sleep, but his head buzzed like a hive. Maybe he dozed anyway because when someone knocked on his door, he came to as if from a place far away.

“Come in,” he managed through his disorientation.

The door swung open and Terry bounced in followed by Sam who had celebrated the end of the school day by retrieving his blue Wildcats baseball cap and skateboard. Terry plopped herself on Lance’s stripped mattress and Sam dropped his board on the floor and sat down in the desk chair.

“So… we have to talk,” Terry began.

“Is this about Lance? Kitty?” Bobby asked sleepily, feeling like he didn’t have strength for either topic now.

“Sort of about Kitty,” she answered. “She’s dropping off of the Halloween party committee. I’m taking her place.”

Bobby had completely forgotten that they were going to meet today. It was just a few weeks until the holiday and they had done nothing yet. He turned to Sam (who now had a restless foot on his board and was pushing it back and forth, the wheels hissing languidly) and asked, “You volunteered, too?”

He pulled his cap low over his eyes. “Yes, apparently. Terry says I’m delighted to be of assistance.” His stationary skating accelerated and he shot a longing look at the door.

Bobby sat up and rubbed his eyes. “Well, Kitty’s first idea was a dance.”

“With only 12 of us?” Terry answered unsurely.

“Eleven,” said the boy under the baseball cap without looking up.

Terry chewed her lip. “Well maybe just some good music and refreshments and stuff after the movie.”

“What movie?” Bobby queried, propping himself up on his elbows.

Sam stilled the board, sat upright and pushed his hat out of his eyes. “The Betrayers!” He cried and Terry joined him for the tagline: “They’re already inside!” She fell back on the bed laughing.

Bobby looked unimpressed. “We’re going to watch television? That’s some wild party.”

“No!” Sam enthused. “You don’t understand. This is going to be majorly scary, stupid trash! Perfect for Halloween!”

“Chad Michael Murray is in it,” Terry put in. “He is so hot.” She lolled on the mattress in ecstasy, her hand trailing dreamily across the floor like she was in a boat floating down a lazy stream.

“Yeah, he is,” Bobby nodded. “I mean, he’s a good actor,” he quickly amended and looked obliquely at Sam to see if he had heard the slip but Sam was turning around to face Bobby’s computer.

“Check it out, Bobby! You have to see the trailer.” He banged on the space bar a few times to wake up the machine which, Bobby realized, had been on since the previous evening.

Bobby turned back to Terry. “So you don’t think we can have a dance with just 11 of us? The teachers will be there, too.”

Before she could respond, Sam said, “Hey, Bobby, You missed an MSN message.”

“Shit,” Bobby muttered. “Mike must have got back on again.”

Sam bent towards the screen. “Is Mike ‘Pyro Pyro Burning Bright?’”

Bobby felt his stomach fall through the floor. He scrambled out of bed like his mattress had caught fire and almost pushed Sam off the chair. He read the message and was struck dumb. It was like a ghost had risen from his screen, like the boy with the long, lovely hair and the wicked words had materialized last night right here and he had been too fucking out of it to notice! He checked the time and his heart sank further. It was right when they went to sleep. Right after he had—he couldn’t even say the words to himself—with Lance. Idiot!

 “Ooh, gross!” came an alarmingly high mutant squeal from Terry that made the image on the screen vibrate and made the boys clutch their ears. They turned to find her holding a pair of Lance’s dirty boxer briefs on the end of one finger. “I guess he forgot these when he packed.” With her lip curled in disgust, she hurled the offending undergarments through the air to Bobby who caught them, a blush already blooming on his face.

“Uh,” Bobby began uncertainly. “Can we continue this meeting tomorrow at lunch?” He made an attempt at his winning smile.

“Yeah, Terry,” Sam chimed in, seizing the opportunity to escape a boring meeting. He was on his feet, grabbing his board and heading towards the door. “Tomorrow’s a great idea! We asked some important questions today! We’ll sleep on it.”

Terry got up, looking at the discarded shorts in Bobby’s hand. “Okay. But maybe we’ll meet in the rec room or something. I can’t take more surprises. Boys...” she murmured in disbelief.

Bobby was staring fixedly at the message onscreen as the door closed behind them, reading through it for clues, rebutting the last line of Pyro’s message: Guess you don’t remember me.

“Of course I do, John,” he whispered to the screen. “I never forgot you. Not for a day.” Without realizing it, he had brought Lance’s underwear up to his face. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply. His cock quickly stiffened.

He opened his eyes again and John’s message glared at him like an accusation. He felt profoundly ashamed.






Two more weeks of October passed quickly. Bobby had spent much of that time watching Kitty from afar. It was sort of like observing some rare bird in the jungle; you had to move quietly and stay out of sight or it would startle and vanish for hours.

On some days she seemed calm and serious, participating fully in her classes and making occasional small talk for a few minutes at meal time before pulling out a book and disappearing behind it. On other days, she didn’t need the excuse of a book in order to withdraw. She would sit alone at meals or else take a plate back to her room (which wasn’t really allowed, but the teacher’s weren’t pressing the point, given her evident trauma over Lance’s departure). On those isolationist days, she would usually be dressed in an oversized Chicago Cubs sweatshirt and her hair would be pulled back in a ponytail. Her eyes, if she let you catch a glimpse of her face, would be puffy and she would stare into space as if waiting to see what disaster happen next.

Bobby realized that he should at least be trying to talk to her, but he was fairly convinced that she did not want to discuss anything with him. He was also scared of such a conversation—of what she might intuit from his reactions, of what she might make him confess. His reticence made him feel disloyal and pathetic.

Not all of his time was spent thinking about Kitty. There were hours of homework to get through, meetings of the discussion group, pickup football games and Xbox tournaments... and there was his new hobby. His weeks of night-time adventure with Lance had shifted something in Bobby. Before Lance, his sexual imagination had been something distant, something denied that he would access only when his hard dick called, and even then only when he was far enough down the road to orgasm to allow the images free reign.

However, once he had begun to experiment with Lance, his days had been filled with daringly conscious thoughts of what they would do that evening, how it had looked and felt the night before. Increasingly, he began to look at the other boys at the school, checking them out in the showers, imagining what they would do with him, imagining what they would look like doing each other. A fantasy conjunction of Neal and Sam had become a reliable favorite. If anything, Lance’s departure had further fueled his erotic imagination.

It was just after 8 p.m. and a meeting of the Halloween Party Committee (which had expanded to include Peter and Dani) was wrapping up in the music room. Peter had shown them sketches of the teachers re-imagined as witches and monsters that he was going to execute as life-size color cartoons to be hung around the rec room. Sam had finally woken up from his apathetic stupor when it was agreed that he would DJ the party. After the meeting broke off, Bobby and Terry were straightening up the room when Kitty suddenly appeared at the door and looked right at Bobby. She had back the Kitty intensity that had been absent for weeks.

“Bobby,” she said with a kind of energetic thrum, “Can I talk to you for a minute?” She and Bobby looked simultaneously at Terry whose eyebrows went up in surprise.

“Uh, yeah,” Terry mumbled. “I was just leaving.” She slipped quickly from the room, closing the door behind her.

Kitty was instantly at Bobby’s side on the battered couch opening up the New York Times to a page buried deep in the first section.

“Look at this,” she breathed, pointing at a story taking up about a third of the page, featuring a photo of an earnest looking man in a lab coat with telegenic features and a blond wave. He radiated the empty confidence of a B grade actor playing a doctor. The headline read, “Helping Them Back to Normal” and the subhead, “Christian Turcott fights to save young mutants from their ‘living hell’”.

“Shit,” Bobby breathed, amazed both to see Turcott for the first time and to be sitting there with Kitty as if the previous two weeks hadn’t happened.

“I know,” she shot back, looking up Bobby in disbelief. “It’s a total puff-piece about how he’s this huge altruist who only cares for his poor, pathetic mutant patients.”

“But what does he do to them? Does it say? Do they get trained in control like we do?”

“It basically says dick-all. It’s about the desperate families and the suicidal kids and how they can be helped through a… Wait, here it is, ‘…through my revolutionary program of behavioral therapy and, in serious cases, innovative surgical techniques.’”

Bobby felt a chill go through him (accompanied, as his chills were, by a drop in the ambient temperature of the room). “Surgery? But what kind of… I don’t like this, Kitty.”

Kitty wrapped her arms around herself against the cold. “I know. If there were a surgical way of blocking mutant expression, we’d have heard about it from X, wouldn’t we? Or from Professor Grey.” She sneezed. “Hey, could you stop with the deep freeze?”

“Sorry.” Bobby closed his eyes and focused on turning off his powers. “And who decides these mutants need ‘help’ anyway?”

Kitty nodded vigorously. “Exactly my question. Lance didn’t decide, did he? It was his parents who wanted it.”

At the sound of that name, Bobby looked up at her and they experienced a moment of nervous connection, the first tentative step on the road back to their friendship. “I don’t know,” Bobby said thoughtfully. “I mean, I never asked him ‘Do you wish you weren’t a mutant?’” Bobby found himself flooded with visceral memories of his roommate, the sound of his voice, the touch of his hand. He heard his voice come out shakily. “M-maybe he does want to be ‘helped back to normal.’”

“I hate that word. What the hell does ‘normal’ mean? Anyway, I don’t believe that. Lance was always really proud of his powers. He got a total thrill out of making earthquakes. It was like being in touch with the planet itself, he told me. He was furious about his headaches, though. He said they were a cruel joke when he had such amazing powers.”

Kitty paused, obviously overtaken by her memories, too. Her eyes were damp and she was looking through him to some moment in the past. “But there was something else,” she continued. “He was scared because he couldn’t control the power. He told me he had terrible visions where he destroyed everyone he cared about in a huge earthquake. He would see them lying dead, crushed under rubble, falling into chasms he had opened in the ground.”

Bobby remembered his own dream where he had frozen his brother, Ronnie to death. “Maybe he does want to be nor… um, not a mutant anymore.”

“I don’t know.” She sounded defeated.

“Have you heard from him?”

“I got an email a week ago. He said they were doing a lot of tests and he was really hopeful they could help.”

Bobby almost said, Did he ask about me? Instead, he simply asked, “Is that all he wrote?”

“Basically, yeah. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear.” She sighed. “And since then, nothing. I wonder if they check all the outgoing mail. Maybe they’re always standing over you while you write so you don’t tell the whole truth.”

Bobby was awash with feelings of anger, fear and jealousy. He turned back to the newspaper to hide his emotions. “Look at this bullshit: ‘Turcott’s aim, through this clinic and future branches across the country, is to help those afflicted in this new epidemic. Public fears about the destructive potential of young mutants is not misplaced, Turcott said with the fiery vehemence of a man on a mission. But we must remember that they did not choose this condition and they deserve our compassion and our help.’”

Bobby threw the paper across the room. “Fuck him.”

Kitty stood suddenly, her eyes blazing.

Bobby muttered, “Sorry… didn’t mean to throw it.”

“No, that’s not what I…Bobby, get up,” she said, resolutely wiping her eyes as she retrieved the paper. She quickly assumed what he recognized as her politician’s stance, straightening and folding the paper with crisp, efficient gestures and tucking it under arm. “We’re going to see X. It’s time somebody gave us some answers about this clinic where one of us has been exiled.”

***

Xavier had always found it difficult to explain the experience of telepathy to those not psychically gifted. Most people thought that his abilities were equipped with an on/off switch—either he was reading the minds around him or he was not. While this was true to a point, such a description did not recognize that people were always “broadcasting” their thoughts to some extent unless they had been deliberately taught to mask them. In fact, it was almost impossible for him to completely shut off the psychic world. After all, even with cotton stuffed in one’s ears, the sense of hearing still offers up the thrum and bump of the world.

Case in point: he was interrupted in the process of marking papers by a storm front of mental determination rolling his way. He didn’t need to ramp up his powers to know it was Kitty Pryde approaching so deliberately; he only needed to pay attention. There was someone with her. Since experience told him that this person was likely to be Bobby Drake, Xavier could not help but look for the boy’s strong psychic signature and, having found it, could not help feeling the boy’s reluctance to be at Kitty’s side on this mission. It was not telepathy but deduction that made him realize they were coming to talk about the fate of Lance Alvers.

While Kitty’s depression over the departure of her boyfriend was a regular point of discussion among the staff, few spoke about the affect it had had on Bobby. Xavier had some idea of the ambiguous relationship between the boys and he suspected that Jean did, too. Perhaps it was some antiquated sense of decorum that had stopped them from bringing it up openly. Perhaps it was Scott’s unenlightened attitudes that neither wanted to deal with. With a sigh, he put down the English paper he was marking, capped his red fountain pen and awaited the knock on the door of his private suite.

“Come in,” he intoned and the inlaid wooden door swung open.

“Professor,” Kitty said politely, “We’re sorry to disturb you. Is it too late to talk?”

Bobby, standing glumly at her side, said nothing.

“No, not at all, Kitty. Please come in. Pull up those two chairs.” Bobby moved the family heirlooms carefully into place and he and Kitty sat down. Xavier smiled warmly. “Now, what is it you wish to talk about?”

Kitty unfolded the New York Times and Xavier nodded slowly as they discussed the article. He and the teachers had been wondering if any of the students had seen it. It was a matter of debate among the staff as to how far to include the students in discussions of mutant politics as it unfolded beyond the walls of the school. Ororo and Jean felt that no matter how painful, the children must have their eyes opened. Scott and Xavier favored sheltering students until they were seniors. From Kitty and Bobby’s grasp of the issues implied in the article, Xavier realized it was foolish to think that the students could be kept in innocence. You wanted the brightest students, Charles, he reminded himself.

“What are these psychological and surgical techniques, Professor?” Kitty asked.

“I don’t know,” he replied simply.

“Has he been able to, I don’t know, turn off anyone’s powers?” Bobby asked with a nervous edge.

“I don’t know,” Xavier said again. He looked at the frustration on his students’ faces. “The fact is, we have been endeavoring to find out whatever we can. We know there are approximately 27 patients in the clinic now. Though most are from wealthy families, there is more than one young mutant there whose family has sacrificed a great deal to pay Turcott’s costly fees.”

Kitty’s tone was suddenly accusatory. “But you have no idea what he’s doing? None at all?!” She let out a slow breath of annoyance. “Professor, there isn’t any way of turning off our powers, is there?”

“Not that I or Professor Grey are aware of, though it is possible that new techniques have been developed by others.”

“And it’s also possible that Turcott’s a complete con artist.” Kitty answered, her voice rising.

Xavier looked her in the eye and said carefully, “I cannot say that the thought has not crossed my mind.”

He watched the fury and frustration play on Kitty’s face and thought with some pleasure about what a great asset she would be to their cause with her passion, clarity of thought and articulate speech.

He was so focused on her that he was actually startled to hear Bobby speak and to feel his wave of fear wash over his mind. “But then what’s going to happen to Lance? Have you heard from his parents?”

Xavier replied carefully. “His parents have asked me to stop inquiring but they promise to let me know when he’s released.”

He felt Kitty’s confidence ebb and she cast a nervous glance at Bobby before turning back to him. “Can’t you find out?” she asked nervously. “Um, telepathically?”

“Yeah,” Bobby jumped in. “With Cerebro?”

Their sudden fear made Xavier remember that no matter how bright they were, they were still children. Had he gone too far? He could have stayed polite but reticent, clearly letting them know this matter was something that they should leave to the adults. Yet cutting them out now would mean patronizing them. They would lose this opportunity for a political education that he believed they needed as much as math and history. He had to admit he was improvising as an educator.

“Robert, Kitty, you have to understand that Christian Turcott’s clinic is legally sanctioned by the State of New York and is under its jurisdiction. We can only hope that the Department of Health is applying its usual rigorous standards to the evaluation of the facility.”

“But of course,” Kitty said in a low voice, “it’s the only facility for mutants out there and a lot of rich, connected people want it to be open. Kind of gives the government incentive to sanction it, right?”

Xavier had to suppress a smile at the girl’s perceptiveness. Her thoughts shone again like clear lasers while Bobby’s were a red haze of emotional reaction.

“But Professor,” Bobby said quietly, “if he’s hurting mutants, aren’t we obliged to do something?”

“We are bound by the law, Robert. Professor Grey and myself along with Dr. McCoy are doing everything we can to learn more and if we find any hint of wrongdoing, we will seek the legal closure of the clinic. Failing that, we will consider... other alternatives.”

Kitty’s eyebrows went up at that but Bobby persevered. “Can’t you use Cerebro and at least find out what’s going on?”

Xavier felt his face betray his anxiety. Having embarked on the path of truth with the students, he no longer felt able to turn back. “For some reason—” he paused and cleared his throat. “For some reason, I cannot penetrate the minds of anyone at the facility.” Bobby and Kitty were staring at him in surprise, perhaps realizing for the first time that their headmaster had limits. “I cannot say why this might be but I will keep trying.”

“Professor, what if we—” Kitty began but he cut her off.

“Kitty, it’s late and I have marking to do. I would like the two of you to keep what I’ve said here in confidence. If anyone asks about Lance, just tell them that we are keeping an eye on his progress and will inform everyone when there is news.”

Xavier watched Bobby return the chairs to their place before he and Kitty left. Alone again, his eye roamed to a unique memento displayed on his desk. It was a shiny piece of steel twisted into the shape of a Bavarian pretzel. He smiled wryly, thinking, You would like this one, Erik. She has your stubborn zeal.

He sighed. He felt like a hypocrite, offering the students too much information and then asking them to do his censoring for them. He thought with bitter amusement of his own naivety about the school; he had wanted it to be a sanctuary as well as a training ground. But there was no protecting these students from the world outside.

And how many secrets were there even within the walls of his ancestral home? Teachers who were more than a teaching staff; a high-tech underground world that made their school science lab a cardboard diorama by comparison. He knew they could not keep it quiet forever. In fact, before long some students would be called upon to do more than excel academically. Maybe it was the fear of that day that made him want to protect the students and let them remain children as long as he could. Despite their youth, despite his guilt, for better or worse, they were destined to become his army.






October 31 came around much sooner than Mike would have believed or wished. And here he was in his bedroom, being dressed up by a much too enthusiastic Jubilee for a party he didn’t want to attend.

“We’ll do the hair and makeup last,” she announced, as she put the finishing touches on the Sharpie tattoo on his bicep. “Otherwise you’ll just mess it up.” He cast a worried glance into his mirror but was pleasantly surprised at how good he looked with the skull and double-guitar emblem that marked him as a member of some new tribe. Absurdly, he felt a little surge of machismo shoot through him.

“Excellent!” Jubilee declared. “Okay! Wait until you see this!” She ran to her bag and started rummaging as Mike posed for the mirror wearing nothing but tight jeans and a tattoo, flexing his arms with a look of goofy joy on his face. His expression changed again to uncertainty as Jubilee appeared behind him and slid a leather vest onto his naked torso. Somehow this garment made him feel even more naked.

Things only got worse over the next 15 minutes. His embarrassment hit its zenith as Jubilee raced out of the room and he heard her in the living room announcing him to his parents like the next act in the circus. She shouted raucously for him to come out and he moved slowly, like his shorts were full of crap. Jubilee hooted appreciatively but his parents were struck dumb as he stood before them in full glam-metal costume, makeup and hair. He kind of realized that he should have gone all the way and raised his fists into the air or something, but instead he acted every inch the shy five year old, dressed up awkwardly in a too-cute suit and paraded in front of cooing relatives.

His mother didn’t seem able to find any words as she sat stiffly on the edge of the sofa but his father started to laugh. “Twisted Sister!” he called out. It was the kind of thing that sounded completely absurd in his Lebanese accent.

“What?” Mike demanded. “I’m a what?!”

His father stood and walked around Mike like he was examining a prize horse he wanted to purchase. “No, silly boy. They were an American metal band. Early 80s.”

“You’re pretty hip when it comes to cheesy hair-metal, Mr. Haddad,” Jubilee teased.

“Beirut was not a backwater town in the early 80s, my dear,” he responded with a wink. Mike was slightly baffled though pleased that his girlfriend and his dad got on so well.

Mrs. Haddad—who was clearly less sure of Mike’s choice in a girlfriend—sighed theatrically and rose from her place. “Angelica will have dinner ready in five minutes, children,” she announced dourly. “You will have to eat carefully, Michael. Or you will smear your makeup.”

She swept out of the room and Mike blushed red.

“Jubilee,” Mr. Haddad said, sending her a serious glance, “this club where you are taking my Michael—this is a safe place? Not a den of ruffians?”

“No, Mr. H.,” she assured him. “It’s completely cool. A bit weird, but cool. Everyone thinks Goths are violent or something but it’s just theatre.”

“Then I will trust your judgment. Michael, I will be there to pick up you and your lovely lady at 11:00. I expect you to be ready.”

“We could just not go…” Mike offered hopefully.

“Nonsense,” answered his father laughing and clapping a hand on his son’s bare shoulder. “I am counting on you to bring back the rebellion of my youth!” Mike had a hard time imagining his short, pudgy father as a fist-waving headbanger.

Mr. Haddad turned to Jubilee with shining eyes and asked, “My dear, do you know ‘Balls to the Wall’ by Accept?”

Mike realized that the whole evening would be made up of occasions when he wanted to be dead.

***

The mansion was all abuzz. This was the first official party they had organized since the beginning of what was proving to be a taxing first term at the new school. The fact that it was Halloween added to the excitement. There was something about the chance to dress up as someone else, to make horror a welcome guest instead of a dreaded visitor that made the holiday a necessary antidote to stress.

Although the details of the evening stemmed from the Halloween committee, as soon as classes ended for the day, every resident of the mansion—student and staff alike—was helping to prepare. All except one.

Bobby watched Kitty slip from their math class at four o’clock and head upstairs to her room. Since their meeting with Xavier, she had again retreated into herself. Bobby knew that the teachers were worried about her depression. So was he, of course; though he was also pretty darn ready for her to get over it.

In the meantime, there was Halloween and he was so psyched! This was his favorite holiday and he had been secretly working on his costume for two weeks: an old-fashioned ice-cream vendor in a white suit and white peaked cap. He had made a special belt to hold three different brightly colored syrups for the snow cones he would produce out of thin air. He had been practicing and he had the consistency down perfectly. He couldn’t wait to arrive in costume at movie time.

He wandered into the rec room where Dani and Jones were helping Peter put up his finished cartoon cut-outs. They were even more impressive than the sketches had suggested. Already on the wall was a likeness of Ororo in a witch’s hat and a daringly sexy black dress. Lightning flashed from her fingertips and reflected in the eyes of the white cat at her feet.

Dani and Jones were lifting the next large cardboard cutout up to Peter on the ladder. It was a cartoon of Scott depicted as a gargoyle with red, flaming eyes, crouched on the ledge of an old-fashioned skyscraper. Dani was a picture of concentration as they balanced the unwieldy object, but Jones’ eyes wandered over to the TV which he turned on remotely with a blink of his eyes. He quickly zoned out and let go of his end of the cutout, causing the others to cry out and almost drop the whole thing. Bobby rushed in to help as Jones, oblivious, wandered over to the couch and dropped into it, slack-jawed, blinking through the channels.

Peter sighed and Dani glared at the boy.

Bobby said, “I know, but there’s not much point getting mad. He won’t even notice.”

“Bobby,” called a voice from the corridor and he turned to see Scott standing there watching his effigy being taped to the wall. “Could I talk to you in my office for a minute?”

Bobby stayed in position until Gargoyle Scott was securely in place and then turned to follow the original down the hall. They passed Sam and Neal who were moving speakers and DJ equipment towards the cafeteria where the dance would take place after the movie, despite Terry’s reservations. Sam had slipped into DJ mode a few days earlier and since then could not be found without sunglasses and a knit hat pulled down over bulky headphones as he perpetually auditioned tracks. The two boys together caused Bobby’s fantasy meter to twitch spasmodically for a second before he turned away, passing through the door that Scott was holding open for him.

His office was the neatest of all the teachers. The piles of papers sat squarely in stacks, the books were shelved, many with colored flags sticking out of them for fast reference, and the pens were separated into color-coded containers on his desk. If you didn’t know Scott was 24 years old and could be a goofball when he wasn’t on duty (which was almost never these days), you would think the office belonged to some boring old professor in a brown cardigan. Actually, Scott was wearing a brown cardigan. Bobby watched as he leaned back in his leather desk chair, interlaced his fingers over his head and stretched.

“You look tired,” Bobby offered.

“I’m fine. It’s been a busy week.” He then smiled and added, “It’s hard work being a gargoyle.” Bobby smiled back but then Scott’s face went serious. He looked at Bobby through his impenetrable red glasses and said, after a few seconds. “Kitty has asked if she can take a few days in Long Island with her relatives. Her cousin is coming after dinner to pick her up.”

“She’ll miss the party,” Bobby exclaimed and he realized that he’d been secretly imagining her coming out of her shell that evening.

“Kitty is very close to her aunt and she thinks it would do her some good to talk things over with her. About her feelings, about Lance.”

Bobby wondered why he was being told all this. “So, are you letting her go?”

“I’ve decided to allow it. She’ll miss two days of school but I think it might be a good idea anyway.”

“What does Professor Xavier think?” Bobby asked and then realized something. “Where is he, anyway? I haven’t seen him since breakfast.”

Scott hesitated. “The Professor is… he’s occupied with other business, Bobby.”

“Is he in Cerebro?”

Scott looked annoyed. He straightened an already squared-off stack of paper. “Yes, he is. He says he needs to spend more time honing his skills. There are certain… subjects he’s been looking for. Please don’t talk to the other students about it.”

Bobby nodded minimally. He was being asked this a lot lately. It made him feel like an insider—trusted by the teachers above other students—but also like an outsider: like he didn’t truly belong to either group.

“I have a favor to ask of you,” Scott resumed. “Actually it was Kitty who asked but I think it’s a good idea. She would like you to accompany her to Long Island. She wants a friend by her side.”

Bobby felt a crushing weight of disappointment hit him. His mouth fell open but Scott spoke first. “I know, you want to be with everyone at the party tonight. I’m asking you to sacrifice that for the well-being of your friend.”

Bobby hated this. He hated that he had to be told not to be selfish. At the same time, he resented Kitty and resented that she hadn’t gotten over her feelings. She had only been going out with Lance for a few weeks. How could she make such a big deal out of this? How could she ask Bobby to miss the party?!

He voiced none of this. Scott was asking him to me mature and goddammit, that’s what he was going to be. “Sure, I’m glad to go,” he said, the words like ashes in his mouth.

“Thank you, Bobby,” Scott said seriously. “No matter what our powers are, our only true strength is how we support each other. Here, I have something for you.” He reached into his desk and brought out a shiny cell phone whose futuristic, sleek design made Bobby’s eyes widen appreciatively. Across the front was a silver “X” that split in two to reveal the controls. “I want you to use that if you’re worried about Kitty and need to talk to us, okay? Or if either of you is revealed as a mutant and you need some kind of support.”

Bobby promised, pocketing the cell phone. Somehow, having it made him feel like he was going on a more important mission; like it was a symbol of Scott’s trust in him.

He sat with a pensive Kitty through dinner, asking polite questions about her aunt’s house, making suggestions about movies they could rent over the weekend, all the while trying to shut out the bubbling laughter all around him. Different students stopped by to tell them that they would miss them at the party and to tell Kitty they were thinking of her.

A beat up, two-door Honda pulled up to the mansion doors at 7:30 and Kitty and Bobby loaded their bags into the trunk. Kitty sat shotgun and Bobby climbed into the backseat. The car smelled of stale cigarette smoke and Bobby’s nose curled up.

“This is my cousin, Ezra,” Kitty told him and the driver, a 20 year old with shoulder-length kinky brown hair stuck out a hand.

“Hey, Bob,” he offered in a non-committal way.

As they pulled out of the driveway, Bobby gave a last wistful thought to his Halloween costume (Snow cones! Red! Blue! Yellow!), sighed and resigned himself to his servitude.

He was barely paying attention as Kitty gave Ezra directions from a printout. He did note with surprise that her morose demeanor had quickly turned around as soon as they left the mansion. She was excited and clearly in-charge of navigation, which was kind of weird since she was from Chicago and Ezra was local. Bobby began to pay more attention.

“Uh, Kitty,” he ventured. “Shouldn’t we have turned off at that exit for I-684?”

“No,” she answered without hesitation. “This is right.”

“But I thought if you’re heading for Long Island, you—” He noticed Ezra smirk and his stomach was suddenly full of butterflies.

“Change of plans, Bobby,” she explained with the sound of someone who’s been sitting on a secret for too long. She turned over the printout and handed it to him. On the back of the driving directions was an email from Lance dated two days earlier. He had snuck onto a staff computer at the clinic to send it and wanted her to know his surgery was scheduled for November first. He was a bit nervous but told her he thought it would be okay.

Kitty had undone her seatbelt and was kneeling on the front seat backwards, watching Bobby as he read the letter. He looked up at her with trepidation.

“We’re not going to Long Island,” she said in a tone of barely suppressed glee. Her eyes shone in the lights of the highway and Bobby was reminded of a raccoon in a tree: hungry and up to no good. “We’re on our way to Poughkeepsie. We’re going to pay a visit to Turcott’s clinic.”

Chapter 14

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